Getting to the bottom of the business file

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A team looking into how the provincial government handles loans for private business is bound to get an earful. Let’s just hope the advice it receives is impartial, with a healthy range of opinions.

An independent review of Nova Scotia’s economic development assistance program is about to get underway. The provincial Liberals, who promised just such an exercise, announced that Tom Traves, a former Dalhousie University professor, will lead the effort to scrutinize loans of public money, loan guarantees, grants, equity and payroll debates.

With a variety of such programs available, the aim is to determine how the province can better boost economic growth. Part and parcel, we hope, it will also be about avoiding wasting taxpayers’ money.

Part of the task, the government said, will be to talk to key business groups and business leaders.

That will prove interesting, since we’ve long heard voices on both sides of the issue of government supporting the private sector. While there’s an argument for providing a loan to an entrepreneur, or payroll rebates when the alternative would mean fewer jobs, there are those who say such support not only alters the playing field, it also compromises the rule of survival of the fittest.

As for public funds, how do you collect when a business has met its demise? The public grits its teeth upon hearing the latest list of written-off loans.

Also part of the review, involving consultants and other experts, will be a look at practices to improve accountability and research on the impact of venture capital investments.

Business owners and groups in commenting on the commercial climate in Nova Scotia inevitably raise the subject of the level of tax they pay. We can be sure that somehow that subject will be raised in this conversation.

Someone might even raise the point that dropping assistance altogether would theoretically allow the government to lower business taxes – for everyone. It’s worth mentioning.

Organizations: Dalhousie University

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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